TRACTORS UP TO 420HP TESTERS' CHOICE ERF [CS 11.30MT
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• by Colin Barnett
If the lowest powered batch of 2001 tractors, those below 420hp, have anything in common, it's that they have little in common. Euro-2 or Euro-3, two axles or three, manual or auto, shopping trolley or continent crusher—we had the lot, condensed into just five vehicles. In fact picking a winner was very much a case of comparing apples with oranges.
Of the two ERFs tested in 2001, the ECX is definitely closest to a "proper" ERF, with what may well be the swansong for the marques traditional plastic cal). Despite a modest 401hp under its floor, the ECX came with the palatial Olympic Sovereign cab, with a spec including TV, microwave and fridge.
Originally a 440, the 10.8-litre Cummins ISM was changed to 405hp for our test. The result was a respectable 7.79mpg and a fair-to-middling average speed. The figures looked good at the time, but better was to come from Cheshire.
Ignore the "420" in the Renault Premium's name; its 11.1-litre commonrail motor pumps out a true 406hp, but it's the only one of our contenders to crack the 10hp-per-tonne barrier. Running at 40 tonnes, it almost took the honours for the fastest time around our Scottish route and just cracked the 8mpg barrier.
Compared with the luxury of the ECX, the Premium seemed positively spartan, but the innovative Single cab with its flat floor and sofa bed in place of a passenger seat provides more than
enough accommodation for most domestic duties.
The ECS 11.38MT marked our first proper trial of an MAN-cabbed ERF. The fleetspec cab was an initially strange-feeling blend of MAN with a difference, but it soon took on its own character. Under the cab, the traditional proprietary axles are replaced by MAN items, but the Cummins/Eaton combo remains (or it did until Euro-3, when a ZF box took over).
The ISMe engine produces a modest 375hp, but it propelled the ERF round Scotland at a highly immodest 8.43mpg, and without any significant loss of time. And in case anyone thinks it achieved this by virtue of good figures on the easy bits, its 5.71mpg over the notorious A68 section is a GMrecord.
Overall, the combination of MANbased accommodation allied to the economy we've come to expect from ERF ( helped by Cummins) seems a successful one.
Volvo's FM12 380 came attached to a Geartronic 2 transmission. Three days without changing gear (no, not socks) convinced us, mistakenly as it turned out, that the second-generation Geartronic was as good as today's automated transmissions had got. The mistake was realised a couple of weeks later when Volvo unveiled the I-Shift, with even more refined operation and even more "inteNgence".
The 374hp engine had to work quite
hard at 41 tonnes, but the gearbox worked equally hard to extract the very best from it. As witnessed by the fastest average speed of the group, the engine never felt short of power, but we can't help feeling that a 420 with the same transmission would have improved on its 7.61mpg.
The final small tractive unit of the year, and the only Euro-3 contender in this group, also featured automated gears. The MAN TG-A 360 came with MAN'S TipMatic, aka ZF 12AS 2301, with control by a combination of a rotary knob on the engine hump and a steering-column stalk. Our verdict was of a good basic transmission design, but needing a bit more refining of the control systems. A respectable fuel figure of 813mpg was countered by the only sub-70km/h average speed.
This was our first test of the latest L cab, a standard-height, narrow sleeper. To be honest, the missing width is barely noticed in a still roomy cab: accommodation and cab equipment are well up to the occasional night out that this fleet targeted model is designed for.
So here we have five perfectly good trucks, everyone of them ready and able to earn its keep. But this is a contest, dammit, and there has to be a winner.
If you'd suggested this time last year that a 3/bhp tractor would shift 41 tonnes around the Scottish route in a competitive time, and achieve nearly 8.5mpg in the process, you'd have been gently humoured. If you'd suggested it would be done by a traditional British kit of off-the-shelf parts (somebody else's shelves, at that), the men in white coats would have been called for. But history will record that it was done. Ladies and gentlemen, we commend to you the ERE ECS 11.38MT,